One of the joys of backpacking has always been low maintenance dress: few options makes it easy to get dressed every day, or to get ready to go out at night, right? Sure, it keeps things simple, but not necessarily fun, and certainly not flattering. So as backpackers, don’t you get away with wearing anything wherever you are? That’s what they say: because you live out of a bag and you’re from some foreign place…
But what does this living out-of-a-bag mean for the traveler herself?
While I often opt for low maintenance clothing at home, dress has always been an important form of expression for me. I have always gotten a kick out of inventing accessories and jewelry to embellish daily attire. In all my past travels, I have managed to maintain something of my own style with what I have packed, but I found myself very limited this trip: I needed insect-shield gear, old work t-shirts, and hiking boots, and no extras, or no more than I could carry a very long distance.
So while I have been very aware of how generally unattractive my daily outfit is, I have been more aware of how generally common it is. Every day, I match a few dozen cargo-style, safari gear-wearing European men. I feel colorless and I notice people not noticing all the flair that isn’t there. I am in my travel uniform and it’s terribly repressive.
But I guess that’s me just being tired of wearing the same shirt and pants day in and day out.
And then I ride the bus with dozens of schoolchildren who wear uniforms all 10 years of grade school, because they have no choice. And I spend a week with Edimer, who wears the same shirt and pants all week because he tends to pigs and their babies day and night and can’t bother with a clean shirt. And his nephew, baby Alejo, doesn’t even wear pants or a diaper because a shirt will do. And a father explains that a school uniform is a godsend because his child’s one other outfit is torn and stained and he wouldn’t want anyone besides the family to see him in it, anyway.
And suddenly it seems silly that clothing was ever a form of self-expression and I begin to question how many other “needs” my self has had all this time.
So I look at my lap, and see how terribly practical my cargo pants really are.